Hope (continuation)

Hope (continued)

Do not speak to me of those who have committed small sins, but consider the case of one who is filled to the full of all wickedness, and let him practice everything which excludes him from the kingdom. And let us suppose that this man is not one of those who were unbelievers from the beginning, but formerly belonged to the believers, and such as were well pleasing to God, but afterwards has become a fornicator, adulterer, effeminate, a thief, a drunkard, a sodomite, a reviler, and everything else of this kind. I do not approve even of this man despairing of himself, although he may have gone on to extreme old age in the practice of these great and unspeakable evils. For if the wrath of God were a passion, one might well despair as being unable to quench the flame which he had kindled by so many evil doings. But since the Divine nature is passionless, even if He punishes, even if He takes vengeance, He does not do this with wrath, but with tender care, and much loving-kindness. Therefore it befits us to be courageous, and to trust in the power of repentance. For even those who have sinned against Him He is not accustomed to visit with punishment for His own sake; for no harm can occur to the divine nature. On the contrary He acts with a view to our advantage, and to prevent our perverseness from becoming worse by making a habit of despising and disregarding Him. For just as one who places himself outside the light inflicts no loss on the light, but the greatest upon himself being shut up in darkness; even so he who has become accustomed to despise that almighty power, does no injury to the power, but inflicts the greatest possible injury upon himself. It is for this reason God threatens us with punishments, and often inflicts them, not as avenging Himself, but by way of attracting us to Himself. For a physician also is not distressed or vexed at the insults of those who are out of their minds, but does and contrives everything for the purpose of stopping those who do such unseemly acts, not looking to his own interests but to their profit. And if they manifest some small degree of self-control and sobriety he rejoices and is glad, and applies his remedies much more earnestly, not as revenging himself upon them for their former conduct, but as wishing to increase their advantage, and to bring them back to a purely sound state of health. Even so, when we fall into the very extremity of madness, everything that God brings to pass is not by way of avenging Himself because of our former deeds; but because He wishes to release us from our disorder.

Now if anyone should dispute with us concerning these things we will confirm them from the divine Scriptures. For who became more depraved than the king of the Babylonians, who after having received such great experience of God’s power as to make obeisance to His prophet, and command offerings and incense to be sacrificed to Him was again carried away to his former pride, and cast bound into the furnace those who did not honor himself rather than God. Nevertheless this man who was so cruel and impious, and rather a beast than a human being, God called to repentance, and granted him several opportunities of conversion. First of all the miracle which took place in the furnace, and after that his vision which Daniel interpreted, a vision which was sufficient to bend even a heart of stone. In addition to these things after the exhortation derived from these events the prophet also himself advised him, saying “Therefore, O king, let my counsel please thee, and redeem thy sins by alms, and thy iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; it may be that long suffering will be shown to thy offense.” (Daniel 4:27) What does this wise and blessed man say? After so great a fall is there again a way of return? After so great a disease is health possible? And after such great madness is there again a hope of soundness of mind? The king had deprived himself beforehand of all hope, first of all by having ignored Him who created him; and brought him to this honor of kingship. Although he had so many proofs of His power and had received distinct tokens of God’s wisdom and foreknowledge, and had seen magic, and astronomy and the whole of the deceptive satanic system overthrown, he went on to exhibit deeds worse than the former. For things which the wise magi, could not explain, but confessed that they were beyond human nature, these very things, a captive youth solved for him. He was so moved by this miracle that he not only himself believed, but also proclaimed to the whole world the power of the God of Israel. (Daniel 4:1-3) So then, if even before having received such a token it was unpardonable in him to ignore God, much more so was it after that miracle, and his confession, and the teaching which was extended to others. For if he had not honestly believed that He was the only true God he would not have shown such honor to His servant, or have laid down such laws for others. But after making this kind of confession, he again lapsed into idolatry, and he who once fell on his face and made obeisance to the servant of God, broke out into such a pitch of madness, as to cast into the furnace the servants of God who did not make obeisance to himself. What then followed? Did God visit the apostate, as he deserved to be visited? No! He granted him greater tokens of His own power, drawing him back again after so great a display of arrogance. What is yet more wonderful, that owing to the abundance of the miracles he might not again disbelieve what was done, God wrought a great sign through the furnace which the king himself kindled. For even to extinguish the flame would have been a wonderful and strange thing; but in order to inspire him with greater fear, and undo all his hardness of heart, God did what was greater and stranger than this. For, permitting the furnace to be kindled to as high a pitch as the king desired, He preserved the youths while allowing those who cast them in to be burned. Nevertheless after such great miracles had taken place, and all who were present and beheld were amazed, and those who were absent had been informed of the fact by means of letters. The king who instructed others remained himself without amendment, and went back again to his former wickedness. And even then God did not punish him, but was still long-suffering, counseling him both by means of visions and by His prophet. But when he was not made anywise better by any of these things, then at last God inflicted punishment upon him. This was not to avenge Himself on account of his former deeds, but in order to cut off the occasion of future evils. Yet even this God did not inflict permanently, but after having chastised him for a few years, He restored him again to his former honor. So King Nebuchadnezzar suffered no loss from his punishment, but on the contrary, gained the greatest possible good: a firm hold upon faith in God, and repentance on account of his former misdeeds.

The loving-kindness of God is such that He never turns His face away from a sincere repentance. If anyone has pushed on to the very extremity of evil, and chooses to return towards the path of virtue, God accepts and welcomes, and does everything so as to restore him to his former position. And He does what is yet more merciful; for even if one does not manifest complete repentance, He does not pass by one which is small and insignificant, but He even assigns it a great reward. This is evident from what Isaiah the prophet says concerning the people of the Jews, speaking in this manner: “On account of his sin I put him to pain for a little while, and smote him, and turned my face away from him, and he was pained, and walked sorrowfully, and then I healed him, and comforted him” (Isa. 57:17-18). And we might cite as another confirmation that most ungodly king, who was given over to sin by the influence of his wife: yet when he only sorrowed, and put on sackcloth, and condemned his offenses, he so won for himself the mercy of God, as to be released from all the evils which were impending over him. For God said to Elijah “Seest thou how Ahab is pricked in the heart before my face? I will not bring the evil upon him in his own days, because he hath wept before Me.” (IKings 21:29). And after this again, Manasseh, having exceeded all in fury and tyranny, and having subverted the legal form of worship, and shut up the temple, and caused the deceit of idolatry to flourish, and having become more ungodly than all who were before him, when he afterwards repented, was ranked amongst the friends of God. (see IIKings 21; IIChron. 33) Now if, looking to the magnitude of his own iniquities, he had despaired of restoration and repentance, he would have missed all which he afterwards obtained. But as it was, he looked to the boundlessness of God’s tender mercy instead of the enormity of his transgressions, and having broken in sunder the bonds of the devil, he rose up and contended with him, and finished the good course.

Having then such great examples, let us not continue in evil, nor despair of reconciliation, but let us say also ourselves “I will go to my Father,” (Luke 15:8) and let us draw nigh to God. For He Himself never turns away from us, but it is we who put ourselves far off: for “I am a God” we read “at hand and not a God afar off.” (Jer. 23:23) And again, when He was rebuking them by the mouth of this prophet He said “Do not your sins make a separation between you and me?” (Isa. 59:2) Inasmuch then as this is the cause which puts us far from God, let us remove this obnoxious barrier, which prevents us from approaching Him. Let us then turn to Him, my beloved friend, and execute the will of God. For He created us and brought us into being, that He might make us partakers of eternal blessings, that He might offer us the kingdom of Heaven.

Through the prayers of our Holy Father John Chrysostoom may our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us!